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African development in the grip of primitive political economy

By - Khamati Shilabukha | July 7th 2013

By Khamati Shilabukha

The French proverb “the more things change, the more they remain the same” popularised by the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90), will remain relevant for the African political and economic landscape for eons to come. Events unfolding across the continent in the last two years indicate that the continent’s political and economic contemporary future is faced with a turbulent foreboding.

From Egypt through Tunisia and Libya to Mali through the lush and green DRC to Central African Republic, it is evident that Africa is still living in the political Stone Age where institutions of governance are still in the strong grip of ape-men masquerading as modern Homo sapiens in power suits befitting the scientific and cyber-technology era.

 The Malian situation reminded us about the fragile nature of our institutions, including the State, while Egypt has demonstrated how the quest for change can end in disillusionment after conniving political pirates misled the populace into giving them the mandate only for them to turn the trust into personal instruments of aggrandisement.

In Central African Republic, Bozize has been shown the door by a relentless group of “bandits” as Zuma dismissively referred to them, and their leader installed as the new President. In Kenya, what was expected to be a free and fair election of the cyber age complete with biometric technology became a subject of a dispute before the Supreme Court of the land.

In all the cases, what is the problem? This is indeed a sad story for Africa. Are we back to the era of coup d’états as is the case with Mali and CAR? Are we stuck in the era of incessant political corruption and institutional decay and malfunction? Shall we always be mired in political upheavals that will eventually distabilise the whole continent? And what are the underlying seismic forces that provide an operating system for these conditions to prevail? My thesis is that as we have put in place infrastructural developments in some parts of the continent (in our case, think of Thika superhighway, Kisumu International Airport and the upcoming Lamu Port); the political leadership has continued to either fuel or ignore the social and political fundamentals that stoke strife in the continent.

In Kenya, for instance, we are trying to mend a political landscape polarised to the extreme.

There has been an uneasy calm after the just concluded elections. Some of us pretend that they have not seen it because we are either blind to the naked truth or we are living in denial. We shouted ourselves hoarse preaching peace before, during and after the polls without considering that real peace goes hand in hand with the truth and justice.

The implication is that we have had “peaceful” election, which then resulted into a “peaceful” petition to the Supreme Court and a “peaceful ruling”. We have silently introduced censorship of an open discussion of what is ailing us. Is this the way we want to run our affairs for eons to come?

If truth be told, in Africa, there is a pervading and prevalent reckless and fatal attraction to having our way in everything and anything. This includes even harmless aspects such as different opinions. It has also been accepted that there can be two sides of the truth. It is a neurosis bordering on schizophrenia.  What a value system!

That is why in our tribal prisms, we have not developed a national identity. The reason is, in Africa, there are individuals and groups with an almost oedipal obsession with political and economic power. They have developed a sense of entitlement to political and economic power no matter what. In some cases historical and demographic rationales are easily provided for this entitlement.

The problem is that whole communities have been swallowed into this atrophic siege mentality. That why there is always a rallying call to primitive survival instincts, especially during electioneering periods, when leaders behave like sentry bonobos rushing to highest trees to warn the ape pack of an approaching carnivore (read a leader form a different tribe).

The resultant soothing feeling of “one of our own being in power” has lulled even the sharpest minds into tribal cocoons, who rationalise even the most indefensible events. And no one is willing to confront this aspect of our society. Those who try are labelled whiners stuck in the past or distabilising elements.

Unless we collectively address the twin genies of tribalism and corruption, which our first generation leaders made early contact with and proclaimed their wishes to, the states that were crafted by the colonial masters will never be forged into viable economic and political entities. We have to face these issues square to survive in the cyber era and beyond. 

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